Non-fiction industry pays tribute to David Lyle

(David Lyle at the 2011 Realscreen Summit. Photo: Rahoul Ghose) As news broke in the late afternoon on Friday (September 23) that unscripted programming veteran David Lyle had passed away following ...
September 25, 2017

(David Lyle at the 2011 Realscreen Summit. Photo: Rahoul Ghose)

As news broke in the late afternoon on Friday (September 23) that unscripted programming veteran David Lyle had passed away following a long battle with cancer, colleagues and friends sent emails to realscreen, expressing sadness over the loss and sharing memories. We encourage those of you with similar words of remembrance to send them to, and we will endeavor to add them to the below.

Brent Montgomery, CEO, ITV America
To lose David is a body blow to the entire global non-fiction industry — how many people can you truly say that about? As a Texan I always find Aussies to be kindred spirits and none more so than David. David was the type of guy who belonged on camera but didn’t seek the attention. No one could deliver a line or joke better than him. When I think of what TV should be no one comes to mind who encapsulates that better than David and no one was a bigger gentleman than he.

Whenever someone comes into my office I always offer them water, coffee or whiskey. To this day David was the only person to accept whiskey before 5 p.m. and I have to say it was an all time favorite meeting.

Over the years and many trips to Cannes there was one place we always knew we would end the night — the Carlton with David for a nightcap where one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met, behind or in front of the camera, would hold court. David was to Cannes and the Carlton as Jack Nicholson is to the Lakers. And the Carlton next month is where we should all pay our respects with stories and laughter as David would have it no other way.

The NPA joined with PACT in the U.S. because of David’s smarts and charm. It’s now on us to finish the bigger goals he helped us lay out so future generations of creatives can have the chance to tell their stories.

Peter Hamilton, founder of, Peter Hamilton Consultants
I met David on his first visit to CBS International on Seventh Avenue. That was in the mid Eighties. He was the rising star programming exec on the Nine network team, and Nine was CBS’s #1 buyer worldwide. I worked on the account. All the eyes of the younger ones in CBS’s office were on David. He had that enviable Sydney look: tall, tanned, sandy-haired, and wearing a jacket and tie as if he’d just spent the morning on a surfboard.

A great story preceded him. At CBS, we’d heard that when David was at Riverview, the Jesuit boys’ high school on Sydney Harbor, he and a schoolmate had mailed in a comedy script to the producers of Australia’s top primetime variety show. The script went to air, and the producers wrote back, asking for another, which also hit the spot. And then more. Not knowing anything about their new writers, the producers wrote to ask them to come in to meet and set up a proper contract. The writers were strangely only available for late afternoon meetings. The producers and their lawyer nearly fell off their chairs when at 5 p.m. two boys walked into a conference room wearing their school blazers. That was how David broke into television.

I hope that I remembered the details right. One thing I’ll never forget: David was always a generous friend and colleague, a wonderfully engaged client, and a global leader of our Unscripted sector who never failed to set a humorous and engaging tone before getting down to the real business at hand.

John McVay, chief executive, Pact
David Lyle will be remembered by so many for his warm, witty words, even warmer drams and above all, his sheer joy of working in an industry where his talent could shine almost as much as his smile and his clear Aussie eyes.

Dawn McCarthy-Simpson MBE, director of international development, Pact
It was such a blow to us all when we heard the news on Friday. I had watched and admired David for many years; he was inspirational and a great ambassador of the TV world. I couldn’t believe my luck when David agreed to launch PactUS, because I got the opportunity to work with him much more closely. He was everything and more than I had imagined he would be.

Our regular chats about global TV would start in China and end in Mexico and encompass everything in between. I loved his honest approach to everything. I would share new ideas with him and mostly he would be supportive and inspire me to make them happen, but occasionally he would just say, “Dawn, I think that is pretty rubbish.” But he would say it in such a friendly way that I would end up saying, “Thank you!”

Apart from his talent, experience and knowledge, above all he was just a lovely, kind, down to earth “nice bloke” who will be missed by so many because of this.

Shannon Malone-de Benedictus, VP of development and production, Red Rock Films (former director of development, National Geographic Channel)
When David first started at National Geographic as a consultant, he asked me to do some client visits with him out in LA. I was only a director of development but as anyone who knows me will vow, I’m not shy when it comes to working with powerhouses like David.

We got to our client meeting, it went great and we headed back to our cars. That’s when David noticed his Jaguar had a flat. He sighed — he realized that the spare tire in the trunk was flat as well. Being the gentleman he is, he told me to go along, he’d figure it out and we’d connect tomorrow. I, being the daughter of a Depression-era WWII veteran and an Irishman, said absolutely not. We’d find a place to fix the flat, come back, fill the main tire and then bring the car to the station to fill up the spare.

He laughed and we were on our way.

An hour or so later, both dirty from the flat tire, the spare tire and the grimiest gas station in all of Sherman Oaks, we were finished. He suggested we toast our collaboration at a local bar. As we sat down, he asked what my drink was.

“I’ll take a Talisker, neat,” I said.

David smiled. “You’re a good one.”

So was David. He will be missed.

Danny Fenton, CEO, Zig Zag Productions
David was my one and only true mentor in TV and in life. An inspirational character who as well as being knowledgeable, smart and a great orator was kind, generous and supportive. The TV world has lost a great man and I have lost a dear friend.

Phil Gurin, co-chairman, FRAPA and president, unscripted and alternative, IM Global Television
David was a champion for the underdog creators, a passionate advocate for formats and a true believer who inspired countless producers, format creators and channels the world over. He co-founded FRAPA many years ago to help bring order out of the chaos of the format industry, where copying was no longer seen as the sincerest form of flattery but more like what it is: copyright infringement and IP theft.

He was a dear friend, confidante, raconteur and legend. He shall be missed here, there and everywhere… especially at the bar at the Carlton Hotel with a dram in his hand, a smile on his face and a story in his heart.

Joanna Kerr, David Lyle’s daughter and founder, Whale Beach Productions
Dad was never happier than when helping someone else reach their potential, He will be a tough act to follow.

John Ford, general manager, NPACT
David Lyle was a rare breed, in our industry and in the world. A true bon vivant, he brought light and life into every room, along with a passion for the creatives of this business. Among his many contributions to entertainment, network and television production was his role in bringing together Pact US and the NPA earlier this year as one unified organization, dedicated to harnessing the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of producers in a new age.

We will all miss David’s maverick mettle, along with his vitality, brilliant insights and humor, and offer our deepest condolences to his wife Janne, his children Sam, Polly and Joanna, and his many friends and colleagues.

Howard T. Owens, founder and co-CEO, Propagate Content
David was a brilliant mentor and friend. His vision spanned the globe at Fremantle, National Geographic Channels and beyond. He believed in creativity, took risks, and always had your back. We will all miss him dearly.

Julie Bristow, founder, Bristow Global Media
David was one of a kind. A true mentor. Generous with his time, ideas and contacts. He put ideas and people together in endlessly interesting ways.

When I left a network job [as executive director of unscripted and studio content at the CBC] to launch a production company David extended his considerable reach to support my new company.

I asked him if he be part of an advisory board for BGM. He told me he would advise me only as long as I paid him in whiskey.

I’m raising a glass tonight.

Eric Schotz, president and CEO, Anvil 1893 Entertainment
David Lyle was reality TV and in fact if he wasn’t a TV exec we’d all find a way to cast him in one of our shows. He was kind, funny, passionate, supportive and a champion on so many levels.

Cheers… to an original, you will be missed.

Alison Green, executive producer, A-List Productions
David was my mentor, cheerleader, biggest supporter, confidant and friend. Trembling and terrified I did my very first pitch for him when he was at Fremantle U.S. in 2004. David felt pitching was “sacred”, a form of high art. He held those who could pitch effectively in high esteem. Apparently I impressed the hell out of him because he told me it was one of the best pitches he’d ever seen and took me under his wing.

Through the years David was always there for me, cheering me on with every victory and bolstering me up when I was down. I remember his first round with cancer and when we thought he’d beaten it. We celebrated with a alcohol-infused dinner in New York.

David was everything everyone’s saying about him — brilliant, forthright, funny, a visionary and most of all, unfailingly generous. I hope his legacy will be that those of us who were fortunate enough to know and work with him will lead by his example and pass on his generosity of spirit, zest for life and passion for the industry he loved.

Peter Schankowitz, founder, Joe Digital
David’s passing leaves a chasmic void in my heart, the hearts of many, and in our business. He was one of the first guys to take me under his wing when I was a pup. Big dogs don’t have to lend a hand. He did that and more for me and countless others who he mentored over the years. I recall a time when we all talked about format and IP protection and David, as usual, was always the most eloquent and passionate voice in the room. Of course, he was the perfect person to move the griping into action. He was the face of a movement and served all of us tirelessly.

I’ll miss the wit, the often hilariously blunt honesty, and his colorful “Australianisms” that always made me howl and that I lifted for my own use shamefully. Even a pass was OK from David because he often softened the blow with his little cabinet of brown, liquid goodness. Yes, I learned quickly the strategy of setting a meeting with David late in the afternoon.

Most of all, I’ll miss his beacon of kindness. He walked the planet in a truly human fashion. We were lucky to know him.

Amy and Conrad Haberland, Amy Haberland Photography
David and Janne have been our friends for a long time. We shared many a cup of coffee while David and Janne smuggled in their Vegemite. I have worked for David in many different capacities from writing an online column at Fox Reality to photographing his debut event for PactUS. He was always supportive of my work and my husband’s artwork. After Conrad painted a portrait of him, David loved it so much he commissioned one of his wife Janne in secret. But really there were no secrets because David and Janne were one. A special love story.

We spoke to David for the last time last week. He was still excited about a project and the same David. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. We will miss him every time we have our coffee.

Tracey Swedlow, CEO and founder, TMRW Corp
David was our keynote speaker at our TV of Tomorrow Show conference in New York City in 2013. He brilliantly shared his infectious enthusiasm for what TV could become in the near future and his ideas about how he was transforming Nat Geo as the then-CEO. Additionally, he was curious about our audience and how they were transforming television into something that was becoming even more participatory and interactive. We definitely sent him some Oban after the event! I’ll never forget being in the presence of someone so open-minded and smart.

Josh Entman, co-founder, Jukin Media
David Lyle embraced new media in ways that so many industry veterans have ignored. He sought to learn, simplify, and solve many of the issues facing producers in a changing content & media landscape. For no reason whatsoever, he personally welcomed me into the fold, introduced me to his colleagues, and included me in speaking engagements and roundtable discussions to help sort through this convergence. Certainly, my profile does not match up with some of the influential members of these organizations. But David was such a champion of our business and such a passionate voice to carry the movement. That spirit was infectious.

While I only knew him for a short while, his warmth, kindness, and curiosity made him the whip-smart Aussie we all adored. I had the privilege to drink whiskey with him on a few occasions at the Beverly Wilshire. I’ll never forget that.

Matt Deaner, CEO, Screen Producers Australia
David Lyle was a true champion of the creative development of the television industry and independent producers from the start of his career in Australia.

This core passion was reflected in his international success and will serve as one of his key legacies. As FremantleMedia’s breakthrough executive in the U.S. market, he took his innate maverick charm through to every level of his sterling ascension through the international broadcasting ranks.

He was not only at the forefront on content development, but a tireless advocate for the issues affecting the industry globally in his devoted work with trade associations NPACT and PactUS and industry advocacy for the format sector as co-founder of FRAPA.

The Australian screen industry is lucky to be able to name David Lyle as one of its own and Screen Producers Australia honors his outstanding work in helping put Australian industry voices into the global arena and setting the template for how to forge new paths internationally as a highly respected trailblazer and gentleman.



About The Author